How Much Exercise Does My Dog Need?

Exercising with your dog can benefit both of you!
Dog trainers and behaviorists tell dog owners all the time that dogs need exercise. A bored dog who doesn't get enough exercise is more apt to get into trouble. With exercise, a dog left alone will be happier taking a good long nap instead of chewing, digging, or barking.

What is Considered "Exercise" for Dogs?

Before talking about how much exercise your dog needs, let's decide what should be considered exercise. A very simple definition is if an activity causes your dog to breathe hard, that can be considered exercise.

So, for example, taking my three 40 to 50 pound dogs for a three mile walk is a good outing but it's not exercise because it doesn't cause them to breathe hard. (If the weather is hot and the dogs pant because of the temperature, that's a totally different thing.)

However, if my friend takes her two Papillons for that same walk – same distance and walking speed – it would be considered exercise. Her dogs have much shorter legs and the dogs have to work harder to maintain the speed and cover the distance.

With my dogs, however, retrieving a ball or toy, out in the yard where they can run hard, is good exercise. Dashing back and forth, jumping to catch the toy, and playing with each other will get them breathing hard.

To determine what is exercise for your dog, you'll have to watch him. Does a walk in the morning and evening when it's cool get him breathing hard? Or should the two of you go jogging instead? Does your dog like to retrieve toys or would he rather go swimming? Just as exercise for you should be enjoyable, so should his exercise.

How Much Exercise for a Dog?

There is no set rule as to how much exercise any given dog needs on a daily basis. If your dog is a couch potato, it won't take much to get him breathing hard and tired. My three herding breed dogs, who are very fit and well-muscled, need a good hour each and every day, at a minimum.

Take a look at how much daily exercise your dog gets now and gradually increase it. Please note that I said to do this gradually. A sudden increase in exercise could cause sore muscles or an injury.

Be sure to vary the exercise. For example, if you like to jog, maybe the two of you can go jogging two or three times a week, then have your dog swim one day, and on the other days the two of you can play retrieving games.

If your dog hasn't been participating in a regular exercise program, take him to the vet for a quick exam first to make sure it's okay for him to begin exercising. If your dog is a little older, do that too. My oldest dog, Bashir, is nine years old and I just took him in for his annual exam even though he's been exercising regularly. I just wanted to make sure everything was okay.


Exercising Your Individual Dog

Just as every person has his or her own exercise needs, so does your dog. Increase the exercise program slowly and watch for soreness or injuries.
Watch your dog as you begin exercising. If he gets hot or tired, stop, give him some water and let him recover. Then take it a little slower the next time.

If you have a puppy, talk to your veterinarian about what exercises your puppy can go. Avoid repetitive exercise on hard surfaces – especially running and jumping – as these could cause damage to your puppy's bones and joints.

Your old dog needs a gentle exercise program. Swimming is often very good for older joints.

Training: Teaching your Dog to Stay

When you teach your dog to “stay,” you’re asking him to hold still in a particular position until you give him the sign to release.

This requires some self-control on his part; it’s hard for many dogs to hold still. Therefore it’s important to teach this behavior gradually, communicate clearly with your dog, and set him up to succeed.

Commit to Training Your Dog

This exercise also requires a commitment from you in order to responsibly teach it. Never tell your dog to stay and then walk away and forget him. Not only will he learn that he doesn’t really have to stay still, but also that he can’t trust you to come back. Both of these are poor lessons for your dog to learn.

Teach Release First to Your Dog

Since stay means “hold still,” you need to tell your dog when he no longer needs to hold still and can move. The easiest way to do this is to teach him a release command from that position.

To let my youngest dog Bones know when he’s finished with a stay exercise and can move, I tell him “Bones, okay!” However, if you use “okay” a lot in your normal conversation, you might want to choose a different, less familiar word so you can avoid confusion. Some people use, “release”; others say “Sweetie, you’re done.” It’s up to you.

With your dog on leash, ask him to sit or down. After a couple of seconds tell him “Sweetie, okay” and take a step or two backwards while encouraging him to follow you. As he takes those steps, praise him: “Yeah, awesome!”

Use this consistently throughout the day as you interact with your dog. Let him know that “Okay” means he’s free to move and each time he responds appropriately, praise him.

Teaching the Stay Command to Your Dog

With your dog on leash, ask him to either sit or lie down. Tell your dog, “Sweetie, stay,” as you give him the “stay” signal with the hand not holding the leash. This signal is an open hand, palm toward your dog, moving the hand up and down as if building an invisible wall in front of your dog’s nose.

Take one step away from your dog while making sure the leash is loose and not pulling on your dog’s neck. Do not repeat the verbal command or the hand signal. Simply stand still for about 10 seconds. Go back to your dog, praise him, pet him, and then release him.

Practice this exercise three or four times and then take a break. Do not repeat it over and over again; this is a mentally tough exercise in self-control for puppies and many other young dogs. While practice does make perfect it takes time to develop that perfection.

Increase Time, Distance, and Distractions with the Stay Command

When your dog will hold still for 10 seconds with you one step away, move on to taking two steps away but keeping the time at 10 seconds. When he’s doing that well, stay at two steps away but ask him to be still for 20 seconds. Only increase either time or distance – never change both at once to avoid confusing your dog. Set him up to succeed and help him perform the exercise correctly.

If your dog should lie down, stand up, or otherwise move from the position you asked him to remain in, use a verbal interruption first such as “Uh oh,” then help him assume the correct position again. If he makes several mistakes over and over, go back to the first training steps and remain close to him, even to the point of holding his collar so you can help him remain in position. Praise him in the proper position and when he responds to your request correctly.

Very gradually introduce distractions while continuing to train the stay behavior. Perhaps have him do a sit and stay combination in front of a friend’s house while out on a walk. Later, ask him to do a sit-stay and then a down-stay while neighbor kids are playing within sight. Have him do a sit-stay while the family cat is eating her dinner. Try introducing these distractions one at a time and for a short period of time while you remain close to your dog. Again, it’s about helping your dog succeed.

The stay exercise is one of the obedience exercises that could have a number of potential uses in daily life. For example, you could have your dog sit and stay at the doorway when you bring groceries in the house; that stay could prevent him from dashing out the open door. He could lie down and stay while the family is eating; if this happens away from the table you can prevent begging. He could also do a down-stay at your feet when guests are visiting; this would prevent him from jumping all over them.

To incorporate the stay exercise into your daily life, begin using it in a variety of situations once your dog understands what is expected of him. Practice using the leash, of course, and help him to do what you’re asking him to do. Make sure your praise him enthusiastically when he does it right and he’ll be an expert in no time.

Seasonal Dog Shedding – What You Can Do

My first dog was a German Shepherd. Watachie was a handsome, intelligent dog. He and I enjoyed training, competing, and search and rescue work. He was an awesome dog, but boy did he shed. Every spring and fall I would spend hours brushing out his loose coat. I was in awe that I could brush that much and he wasn't naked.

The Basics of Dog Shedding

Seasonal shedding is normal; think of it as a renewal of the dog's coat. However, the shedding will vary according to the type of coat. Many breeds have what is called a single coat. These coats have one type of hair from the skin out. Jack Russell Terriers, Boston Terriers, and Greyhounds have single coats. When shedding, these dogs will lose these short, stiff hairs.

Breeds with a double coat have two types of hairs. The hairs in the outer coat are called guard hairs. The undercoat is closer to the skin and is soft and fluffier than the outer coat. During shedding seasons, some of the guard hairs are lost but vast quantities of the undercoat will be shed.

Most breeds who shed do so in the spring and fall. Females, however, can also shed during or after their season, or during or after a pregnancy. Dogs who undergo surgery often shed after that also.

Abnormal shedding can be a symptom of a disease or health problem. If your dog is losing too much of his coat – to the point that the skin is visible – talk to your veterinarian as this is not normal shedding. Your dog needs to visit the veterinarian also if the skin is red, scabby, if the hair is thinning in spots, or if your dog is chewing or scratching.

Dealing With All That Dog Hair

A healthy dog should have a shiny, clean coat no matter what type of coat he has. Regular combing or brushing can keep the coat clean and stimulate the skin's oils that help keep both the skin and hair healthy. Brushing twice weekly is fine for many breeds, although dogs who play hard or get dirty may need more frequent grooming.

When shedding begins, increase the combing and brushing. Single coats can be groomed with a soft bristle brush or a rubber curry comb every other day. Many owners are amazed at how much hair dogs with a single coat can lose.

Dogs with a double coat usually need daily brushing during shedding season. This will help remove the loose hairs and prevent tangles and mats. Breeds with a thick, soft undercoat, such as Chow Chows, Collies, Shetland Sheepdogs, German Shepherds, and Australian Shepherds, can develop tangles and matts in the undercoat if the loose hairs remain in the coat.

When brushing, the comb or brush needs to go through the coat to the skin. If you brush over the top of coat, the grooming tool will go through the guard hairs but not the undercoat. A grooming rake has long stiff teeth that will go through the coat; just be careful not to harm the skin underneath. Part the coat and work on one section at a time, from bottom to top. Then move to another section. If your dog gets impatient, take a few breaks.

If your dog has tangles and mats, a mat splitter, a rake, or a long toothed comb can be used to work those out of the coat. If these don't help, rub on some hair conditioner (yours is fine) and work it in with your fingers. Then work out the tangle.

The goal of regular combing and brushing during shedding seasons is to remove the loose hair so that the coat remains clean and healthy. But regular brushing can also help keep some of the hair out of your house.

A Vacuum Cleaner is Your Friend (and Hopefully Your Dogs)

If you have a dog that sheds heavily, invest in a good-quality vacuum cleaner. Dog hair can easily overwhelm a lesser quality machine and you'll have to replace it sooner. Several companies make models specifically for homes with pets. Bissell makes and attachment that is just for pets that allows you to brush the hair way for dogs that will tolerate it. (Bissell Shedaway).

Playing Charades with Your Dog

Charades for dogs you say? Let me tell you how to play a very fun game with your dog!

I like playing games with my dogs. Retrieving games are fun and good exercise; teaching tricks is both amusing and great for developing communication and training skills. I also vary the games we play. Doing different things keeps life fun, interesting, and challenging for both myself and my dogs.

Copy Cat Charades

One activity for dogs that I love is something I call the “charades game.” This game for dogs and owners really isn’t true charades, at least not as people play it. Your dog isn’t going to be guessing (and verbalizing!) what you’re portraying. Instead, this is more like a game of “copy-cat” and the challenge is communicating with your dog that you’d like him to do what you’re doing.

One of the easiest things to do initially is to hold your hand, palm upward, in front of your dog slightly below his nose height. If he touches it with his nose, don’t do a thing. Not giving a response will let him know that is not what you were asking for. However, if he places his paw up against your hand, praise him with a “Yeah!” and pop a treat in his mouth. (If you use a clicker with your training, that’s fine, too-just be sure to click the instant his paw touches your hand.)

In this game, timing is of utmost importance. You must click or praise to mark the action you want at the instant that action occurs. If you need to break the action down into steps, that’s OK…but again, be ready to mark the action as it occurs.

You are not naming these actions or positions, as this is not trick training where you’re asking your dog to perform something. Instead, you want your dog to copy what you’re doing.

A Few Suggestions for Dog Charades

When your dog will touch your hand with his paw with no additional cues from you, try a few more actions. Start with simple ones first and then move on to more complicated behaviors. If your dog is having trouble with one, skip it and go on to something else.

Initially your dog may just watch you or will try and bounce or jump on you. Feel free to encourage him to join you-just stay away from words such as “sit” or “down” that might be understood as commands.

  • Downward-Facing Dog: Start on your hands and knees, then lower the front half of your body into the equivalent of a human/dog play bow. You can pat (or slap) your hands on the ground in front of you as you assume this position.
  • Lie Face Down: Being lying down on your tummy with your face to your dog. You can put your arms under your head or chin. As with Downward-Facing Dog, you can slap your hands on the ground as you move into the position.
  • On Your Back: Lie on your back with your arms and hands in a comfortable position.
  • Roll Over. Lie on the floor in the face-down position and roll over onto your back, then return to the face down position.
  • Wiggle Like a Snake: While lying face down, move forward on the floor by wiggling like a snake. This is great fun when your dog is by your side and you wiggle forward together. Anyone watching will think you’ve lost your mind!
  • Spin in a Circle: Unlike the trick “spin in a circle,” this one requires you to spin in a circle with your dog moving around you on the outside. Start by standing upright and simply turn in a circle. Encourage your dog to walk around the circle with you. When he’s doing it, speed up your spin.
  • Spin the Other Way: Try repeating the previous action but moving in the other direction.
  • Marching in Place: While standing up, lift one foot and move it slightly forward towards your dog. When your dog places his paw on your foot, mark that action. When he’s doing it reliably, then do it two or three times one after another. Finally, introduce the other foot and his other front paw. Eventually you will be working towards a marching action.

    Use your imagination and come up with more great ideas. What else can you do that your dog can copy?

  • Dog Charades is Fun… Keep It Fun!

    This copy-cat type of game is not foreign to dogs; puppies and young dogs mimic what adult dogs do all the time. However, we typically get stuck in a teacher/student rut with our dogs: we tell them what to do and they do what we tell them. This game is a fun way to let your dog think, study, and then copy you.

    Don’t get frustrated if your dog doesn’t understand what’s going on in the beginning. Just smile, vary your actions or body language, and use motions or hand signals to help the two of you communicate. When he tries to do something – anything – at this point, mark that action and reward him.

    Stop these session before you and/or your dog gets frustrated. Remember, playing charades with your dog should be fun for you both.

    Dogs that Dash for the Door – How to Stop It

    Dog owners often complain about their dogs dashing out the front door, charging an open gate, or even just trying to be the first one through doorways in the house. The owner of two Golden Retrievers said that her two recently knocked her down as they charged through an open door. She wasn't hurt but knows she could have been and now wants to change her dogs' behavior. Thankfully, it's not difficult to do.

    An Open Door is an Invitation for Dogs

    To understand why dogs dash through open doors and gates, it's important to know that dogs repeat actions that are rewarding to them. That is why training techniques that use rewards of praise, petting, food treats, and toys are so effective.

    Rewards don't always come from you, however. If your dog chases a squirrel, for example, and has a great time (even if he didn't catch the squirrel) he'll want to chase the next one he sees or hears. The chase and the adrenaline rush can be enough of a reward.

    The chance to dash through a door and be rewarded in some way can make sure the action is repeated over and over again. The rewards can vary from running around the neighborhood, visiting with people walking by, barking at neighbor dogs, or attention (even negative attention) from you.

    Some trainers emphasize that dashing ahead of you through a door is dominant behavior and needs to be stopped for that reason. That's not necessarily so and shouldn't be assumed. However, because dashing through doorways ahead of you can hurt you – the dog can knock you down, cause you to trip or wrench a knee – and because the behavior can also endanger your dog – it should be stopped.

    Teach Dogs Sit and Stay at Doors

    The easiest way to stop this behavior is to teach your dog to sit and stay at doors and gates. When he can sit and stay when a door is opened, and then wait for your permission to go outside then you can help keep both of you safe.

    To begin this training, put a leash on your dog and have some treats in your pocket. Choose a door to begin; the one your dog is most likely to charge through is a good place to start.

    Ask your dog to sit about a step from the door inside the house. Praise him for sitting. Then tell him to stay and, holding the leash firmly, open the door. If your dog dashes, let him hit the end of the leash on his own, use a verbal interruption like “Uh uh,” and bring him back inside. Close the door and repeat. If he doesn't move from his sit, reward him with praise and a treat.

    After a couple training sessions, when he's rock solid at this, open the door and take a step through by yourself. Or, as you hold the leash, say hi to a neighbor. Create a slight distraction. Reward your dog when he holds his position.

    Then begin this training all over, from the first step, at another door or gate. Don't assume that because he understands this new game at one door he will do the same at all doors and gates. You need to repeat the training at several doors and gates and practice quite a bit before your dog makes that generalization.

    Give Permission to Dogs at the Door

    When you want your dog to walk through an open door or gate, now you need to give him permission. Ask him to sit, praise him, and then tell him, “Sweetie, okay!”

    If you don't give him permission and you simply walk him through when you want to go for a walk, you'll have a confused dog. Plus, he won't be nearly as reliable as he could be.

    I hope these prevent your dog from dashing at the door. Dogs that dash are commonly seen in emergency clinics injured from bites or other forms of trauma.


    Get Rid of that Winter Coat – Grooming for your Dog in the Spring

    Most dogs grow a heavier coat in the winter even if they spend most of their time inside. Granted, dogs who spend more time outside grow a thicker coat, as do breeds with a naturally thick coat such as Akitas, Siberian Huskies, Samoyeds and others. Many breeds with medium or short coats also develop a thicker or heavier coat during the winter as it helps protect them from the colder temperatures and unpleasant weather.

    This heavier coat means that come spring, there's going to be hair everywhere. Plus, thick coats can become matted as hair that loosens in the spring catches on the remaining coat and tangles. Some undercoat becomes felt-like – comparable to the fleece of a sheep – if it's not brushed out as shedding begins.

    Spring means not only the traditional spring cleaning for your home, but spring cleaning for your dog's coat as well.

    Brush, Brush, and Brush Some More

    The first step in refreshing your dog's coat should be brushing. No matter what kind of coat he has – short, medium, long, undercoat or not – brushing is good for it and removes the loose hairs.

    One of my Australian Shepherds, Bashir, has a very thick undercoat. My middle dog, Sisko, has an undercoat, but not nearly as heavy as Bashir's.

    Then my youngest, Bones, hasn't fully developed his adult coat so right now he has little undercoat.

    All three dogs need regular grooming, but Bashir requires much more brushing than the younger dogs to get all of the old undercoat. I do this over several brushing sessions; I don't want him to get tired of the grooming, dislike it, or get bored, which might happen if I tried to do it all at once.

    What type of tool you use to brush your dog depends on your dog's coat. If you aren't sure, ask a breeder or a local professional groomer. It's important to make sure your grooming tools – brushes, slicker brushes, rakes, or combs – are gentle on the skin and do not scratch him or make him sore. Feel the tools with your fingers or brush them along your skin; if they hurt or scratch you, they will hurt your dog as well.

    Brush in the direction the hair grows. If you encounter a tangle or mat do not try and force the brush through it. Don't pull the mat out either; that hurts. Instead, use your fingers to untangle the hair. If that doesn't work, use a tiny dab of hair conditioner (yours is fine) and work that into the tangle, then comb it out.

    If your dog has large tangles and mats, take him to a professional groomer. Shaving might be required as working out large mats can be difficult and painful.

    Bathe, Condition, and Brush Your Dog Again

    After you have thoroughly brushed out most of the coat that is being shed, then it's time for a bath. As you shampoo your dog, give him a fingertip massage so you can feel his coat and skin. If you feel a couple more tangles in the coat, make sure to work in some conditioner after you've rinsed the shampoo out.

    The fingertip massage can also feel for any lumps, bumps, cuts, scratches, ticks, or other problems that might have been hidden under the winter coat. It's often much easier to find these by feeling them with your fingers than it is to see them. Once you feel as issue, you can take care of it yourself or decide if a trip to the veterinarian is required.

    After the massage, rinse out the shampoo. If your dog has a thick coat, a rinse of white vinegar (rubbed into the coat) and then rinsed out will make sure any remaining shampoo is gone. Shampoo that remains in the coat can cause skin irritation.

    If your dog's coat looks a little worse for wear after the winter weather and warm dry temperatures in the house, use a conditioner on his coat. Follow the directions as they vary according to the brand. Most are supposed to be worked into the coat and then ask you to wait a few minutes before rinsing.

    The Fabulous Muffin Tin Game for Dogs

    I've been playing the muffin tin game with my dogs for more than ten years and my dogs and I still enjoy it. It uses two of the dog's senses – sight and smell – and challenges his brain.

    This game is perfect for puppies, adult dogs, and even geriatric dogs. It's also good for your relationship because you're setting up the game, encouraging him as he plays it, and you're his biggest fan when he succeeds.

    Setting Up the Muffin Tin Game for Dogs

    This game needs a few parts to play it, but thankfully they are inexpensive. First, find a muffin tin that is made for regular sized muffins. A twelve muffin tin is best as it gives the dog more chances to play. If you only have a six muffin tin, that's okay to start.

    You'll also need one tennis ball for each hole in the tin. So, find twelve tennis balls for the twelve muffin tin or six for the smaller baking pan.

    Then you need some good treats. For this game, smelly treats are best, especially when first teaching the game. Swiss cheese works great or some meat. Cut the treats in small pieces; about the size of a pencil eraser is perfect.

    The Game

    To set up the game, place a treat in each hole of the muffin tin and then place a tennis ball on top of the treat. For standard size muffin tins, the tennis ball fits perfectly. The goal of the game is to encourage your dog to sniff for the treats and try to dislodge the tennis ball so he can get the treat.

    Once the muffin tin is set up, place it on the floor and encourage your dog to check it out. You may have to slightly lift a ball so he can see and sniff the hidden treat. When he sees and smells it, drop the ball again and encourage him to find the treat. When he finds it, praise him!

    Bold, food-motivated dogs will learn this game quickly and will send tennis balls flying. Other dogs may need more encouragement, but that's okay. Remember, it's important that you play the game with your dog, so talk to him, show him where the treats are, and if needed, lift a tennis ball now and then.

    One of the mental challenges of this game is for the dog to remember where he's found treats and where he hasn't. This is especially true if he rolls the tennis balls from one hole to another. Don't make it too easy by lifting the balls out yourself; let your dog figure it out.

    When your dog has found all the treats, set up the game and play it again. If you use small treats, playing it twice a couple of times a week won't upset his normal diet.

    Variations of the Muffin Tin Game for Dogs

    If you have a toy breed dog or a cat, get a muffin tin made for making mini muffins. Then, for the toy breed dog, find some of the tiny tennis balls. Cats will play with ping pong balls.

    You can use small treats for the small dogs. For your cat, you may need to experiment. Some cats will play the game for bits of tuna but other cat owners have found bits of fresh catnip work well.



    Flower Pot Scenting Game for Dogs

    The flower pot scenting game is an easy one to teach your dog. It is inexpensive, easy to set up, and your dog will love playing it. You can teach dogs of any age – from puppies to geriatric dogs – to play this game. Because their sense of smell is so important for most dogs, this game is great fun.

    Teaching Your Dog

    To play this game you'll need three small to medium sized identical flower pots. The pots can be clay, plastic or ceramic, but choose pots with a hole in the bottom.

    You will also need some treats your dog really likes; preferably some with a strong smell. Swiss cheese, turkey hot dogs, or liver work well.

    To Teach the Game to Your Dog:

    • Invert one pot and place a treat under it. Tell your dog, “Sweetie, find it,” and tap the pot to attract your dog's attention.
    • When your dog sniffs the hole in the pot, praise him and tip the pot so he can find and eat the treat. Repeat a few times and then take a break.
    • At your next training session, repeat as above a couple of times and then when you ask your dog to find it, don't tap the top of the pot. When your dog shows you in some way that he smells the treat (by nosing the pot, licking it, or pushing it with his nose) encourage him to get the treat himself. He may paw it or tip it over with his nose. Praise him and let him get the treat. Repeat a few times and take a break.
    • At your next training session, set out two pots but only use one for treats. Vary the position of the one with the treat and encourage your dog to search for the treat, “Sweetie, find it! Yeah, good!”
    • When your dog can search two pots and find the right one, then set out the third pot. Again, just put a treat under one and shuffle the pots every time so your dog has to search for the treat. Praise him when he finds it.

    Keep your training sessions short; just a half dozen searches each time. You want to build excitement so your dog wants to play games with you and you can do that by using great treats, giving lots of praise, and stopping the game before he gets tired or bored.

    Variations on the Game

    When your dog has learned the game well and finds the treat every time, add some variations to the game. Add another identical pot or two (or three). Add them one at a time as you did when initially teaching the game. Shuffling five or six pots with a treat under just one makes the game more exciting and amazing.

    You can also play the game with paper cups; just poke a hole in the bottom of each cup. Re-teach the game using the training steps above. However, because your dog already knows the game, it won't take long for him to relearn it with the paper cups. If you dog is really excited about this game and is good at it, then create a harder challenge for him. Find six flower pots of a variety of sizes, shapes and different types (clay, plastic, and ceramic). Reteach the game by following the original training steps. Cheer him on as he masters the game, “Yeah, good dog! Woo hoo!”

    I hope your dog loves the flower pot games as much as I do!



    Trick Training: Go to Your Mark

    Actors and actresses, when performing, have marks that they have to move to for any particular scene. They may move to a sofa and sit, walk across the scene to a piece of tape on the floor, or some other pre-arranged spot. By having these marks, the camera and sound technicians can make sure the actor is seen and heard. And by doing this, chaos with the other actors can be averted.

    Animals who participate in commercials, television, movies or stage productions also need to learn to go to pre-arranged spots. Their spot might be marked with a small piece of carpet or some other visual cue that they have been taught to go to.

    Teaching your dog to go to his mark is fun. It's a great trick, will amuse your guests when you let your dog show off, and it can be put to practical use. Plus, when you do additional trick training, your dog can go to his mark several steps away from you and then do some of his tricks at that spot just as canine actors do.

    Teaching Your Dog

    You will need some good treats that your dog likes and something to use as a mark. Once your dog knows this trick you can teach him to go to many different things, but while teaching this initially, use something obvious. Check out Bones in the accompanying photo – his first mark was this small step stool.

    • Place the step stool on the floor and call your dog. Drop a treat on the stool and encourage your dog to eat it. You want your dog to equate the stool with treats, so do this several more times and then take a break.
    • At the next training session, have some treats in hand and call your dog to you. Praise him, give him a treat, and then, standing on the other side of the stool, hold the treat at your dog's nose level and encourage him to place a paw on the stool. Lifting the treat up slightly and towards you can help. When he does, praise him, “Good mark! Yeah!” Give him the treat. Repeat several more times and then take a break.
    • Your goal is for your dog to place both front paws on the stool (the mark) so over the next few training sessions, watch for your dog placing both front paws on the mark and when he does, give him a jackpot of treats. (A jackpot is lots of praise, petting, and a handful of treats.) Repeat a few times and take a break.
    • When your dog is putting both paws on the stool reliably, then begin asking him to go to mark rather than calling him to it. Place yourself a step or two away from the stool and tell your dog, “Sweetie, go to your mark,” and when he does, praise and reward him.

    Gradually, with practice, send him from farther away and from different directions. Your praise needs to reward him immediately if you are steps away as it will take you a moment to get the treat to him. Your voice (or clicker if you use that) identifies the moment he does what you want.


    When your dog is going to his mark reliably, you can change the mark. For example, you can use a small piece of carpet rather than the little step stool.

    To teach a new mark, simply follow the original training steps. Just expect the training to progress much faster as your dog already understands the trick; he just needs to learn it can apply to the piece of carpet, too.



    Trick Training: Teach Your Dog the Touch Command

    In the trick training article "Go to Your Mark", I explained how to teach your dog to go to a specific item – such as a small piece of carpet or a low stool – and place his front paws on it.

    This is a type of target training because your dog is to go to a specific item – a target – o perform his trick. There are other forms of target training too, in dog sports as well as trick training. Its multiple uses make this a potentially valuable, as well as fun, exercise to teach.

    The first target you'll use will be the flat of your hand. When your dog knows that well then you can use other items depending on what you want to do with your dog. If you do agility, target training can teach him to hit the contacts on the agility equipment. If you're doing obedience, therapy dog volunteer work, or just having fun with trick training you will find other uses for target training.

    Training Steps to the Touch Command

    You will need some treats your dog really likes. Ideally these are treats he doesn't get on a regular basis. Keep in mind your dog's sense of smell is his most important sense, so choose treats with an enticing (to your dog) smell. Swiss cheese diced into small pieces works well as does freeze dried liver.

    Ask your dog to sit in front of you. Hold one hand out, open, with the palm toward your dog's nose and with the other hand, hold a treat immediately behind the open hand. Slowly move your hands towards your dog and when his nose touches your open hand praise him, "Good!" and pop a treat in his mouth. Repeat five or six times and take a break.

    Repeat this for several sessions. When your dog begins to move his nose towards your hand on his own, without waiting for your hand to come to him, praise him and give him a treat. The next time you repeat this training step, tell your dog, "Sweetie, touch!" as he touches your hand.

    Gradually decrease the distance you move your hand towards your dog's nose and encourage him to move toward your hand. Ask him to touch you at the beginning of the exercise rather than waiting for him to touch your hand.

    Then, when he's touching your hand with his nose reliably, add some variations. Move your hand slightly to the right, or left, up or down. Use your voice to encourage him, cheer his efforts, and a quick treat to reward him for moving. Keep the training sessions short and fun.

    Add Another Target

    When your dog is targeting your hand well, you can add another target. Start with a small one, such as a ball, and simply hold the ball in your hand, repeating the training steps above. When your dog is touching the ball in your hand, then place the ball on a surface and keeping your hand behind the ball, ask your dog to touch it. Praise and reward him. Then gradually move your hand away.

    Then you can start adding additional targets. These can be things around the house, such as toys, or can be items to be used for other tricks.

    Don't forget to have fun with this (and all) trick training. If you want to amaze your friends, teach your dog to touch a water bottle. Then when friends are visiting, line up several items with a water bottle in the middle of the row. Ask your dog to touch the water bottle. People will be in awe of your brilliant dog.